The Lionesses returned to Wembley on Thursday evening – having lifted England’s first major trophy in 56 years last summer. Sarina Wiegman’s side have played under the arch once since that memorable day in late July, defeating the USA in sensational style in October. Thursday’s fixture had more at stake though, as the Lionesses had the opportunity to lift yet more silverware in front of a sell-out crowd as they faced Pia Sundhage’s Brazil in the first-ever Women’s Finalissima.
ENG: Earps; Carter, Greenwood, Williamson, Bronze; Toone, Walsh, Stanway; Hemp, Russo, James
BRA: Leticia; Tamires, Rafaelle, Kathellen, Lauren; Kerolin, Luana, Any, Antonia; Geyse, Bia Zaneratto
Ahead of kickoff, a touching tribute was paid to Brazilian footballing legend Pelé. The Brazilian tragically passed away at the end of December, and left an immense legacy on the sport. As England captain, Leah Williamson continued to wear the OneLove armband – with all of the Lionesses sporting purple wristbands as a symbol of their fight against gender inequality.
England had a chance within the opening minute as Lauren Hemp’s ball in from the left flank looked to pose a threat to the Brazilian back-line, but it was cleared away well and the Lionesses were forced to rebuild. Hemp found herself through once again on the touchline soon after, though Brazil’s number 14 forced the ball out of play.
Alessia Russo felt she should have won a penalty as she was shoved to the ground inside the area, but Stéphanie Frappart dismissed the striker’s appeals. It had been a bright start for England – but Brazil remained switched on defensively. If anything, it was England’s passing that looked set to cost them, conceding possession on numerous occasions within the opening ten minutes.
Russo looked to surge past Rafaelle on the right flank, taking a touch towards the byline to knock it past the Arsenal defender before cutting infield – but Brazil’s sole WSL representative committed a foul on the Manchester United striker. The Lionesses were awarded a free-kick just outside the box, but they were unable to nod the delivery home.
Lucy Bronze put Leticia to work in the 14th minute, picking up the ball outside the area from Lauren Hemp before driving a strong effort towards goal – but the Brazilian ‘keeper did well to deny the right-back’s strike and keep the game level. That chance seemed to restore some of England’s confidence, and Sarina Wiegman’s side began to appear more comfortable on the ball after a fairly shaking opening period.
Brazil could have taken the lead after nineteen minutes, as Geyse was played through on goal with a brilliant ball over the top, but after jinking past Jess Carter, her shot was sent well wide of the target. If the game continued in this fashion, we were in for one hell of a game of football.
It was Ella Toone that found the opener with twenty-three minutes on the clock though, firing home a rather simple strike after Lucy Bronze’s delightful cut-back pass. The Manchester United star’s finish ducked under the outstretched arm of Leticia – sending Wembley into euphoria as England headed towards another trophy lift under the lights. The National Stadium seems to be a sort of lucky charm for Toone, who also bagged the opener in the EURO final.
Lauren James thought she’d bagged England’s second less than ten minutes later as she sent the ball crashing into the roof of the net – but the assistant referee’s flag was promptly raised, as she was quite clearly onside when she received the ball.
Lauren Hemp had switched to the right flank, with Lauren James taking control of the left wing – and it felt like it would be only a matter of time before England scored their second goal of the night. Hemp was linking up nicely with Lucy Bronze on the right-hand-side of the pitch, and with the ever-present goal threat of Alessia Russo to aim for, the Lionesses had plenty of options.
The Lionesses – wearing their new home kit for the first time – looked desperate to double their advantage ahead of the interval, but Lauren Hemp’s headed effort was saved by Leticia shortly before Alessia Russo’s tame strike was flagged offside. Lauren James attempted a curling strike from the edge of the box, though that sailed wide of the far post without ever really threatening the Brazilian ‘keeper.
Ultimately though, the Lionesses headed into the break with a one-goal advantage. Some sloppy passing from Sarina Wiegman’s side meant that Brazil had managed to break through the England defence on a few occasions, but their final product never really seemed too threatening – and if the hosts could improve the accuracy of their passing in the second half, they would surely cruise to victory.
Brazil were quick to challenge Mary Earps after the break, with half-time substitute Andressa firing a shot on target early on – but the Manchester United ‘keeper was able to get down and make the save. The South American champions seemed rejuvenated after the break, taking confidence from the knowledge that should the game be level after ninety minutes, it would head straight to a penalty shootout.
Kerolin was next to attempt to bring Brazil level with a strike from outside the box, but her rather tame effort whistled just wide of the far post. The Seleção had certainly emerged from the interval as the better of the two sides, but getting past Mary Earps would prove difficult – with the keeper boasting the most clean sheets in the Women’s Super League this season (11).
Leah Williamson was forced into making a spectacular block to deny Brazil the equaliser though, as the strike appeared to have Earps beaten. England simply had to extend their advantage and fast, because Brazil looked like a constant goal threat. Geyse proved that once again as she powered a thunderous effort towards the top corner from the outside of the box, but Earps was able to tip it onto the crossbar with an acrobatic save.
Georgia Stanway’s long-range strike was denied by Leticia in the 67th minute, with the Brazilian shot-stopper producing a fine save under pressure to parry the Bayern Munich midfielder’s effort away. It looked as if Brazil would finally bring themselves level as Geyse sent Alex Greenwood to the floor, though her cross into the box was cleared well by a recovering England back line.
Lauren James and Alessia Russo were replaced by Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly as the game entered the final fifteen minutes. Daly could have made a great impact off the bench as she was played through on goal by Lauren Hemp, but the Aston Villa star’s effort was off target and she was flagged for offside anyway.
Sarina Wiegman’s changes looked to have the desired effect – with Rachel Daly in particular posing a threat to Brazil’s defences, though the visitors seemed to have an answer to every England attack. Lauren Hemp’s influence on the game from both flanks simply couldn’t be understated, and it felt as if every Lionesses attack flowed through her at some point. The Manchester City forward had returned to her favoured position on the left wing for the second half.
It looked as if Hemp would finally get her goal in the final ten minutes or so, as Chloe Kelly’s cross looked to find the winger inside the box. Hemp missed her header though, instead receiving an elbow to the face that caused a rather hefty nose bleed. That was to be the end of her evening, as she was replaced by Katie Robinson for the final few minutes.
Lauren Hemp’s injury resulted in five minutes of stoppage time, with the Lionesses desperate to hold out and lift their second trophy at Wembley in less than twelve months. It proved to be a bigger motivator for Brazil though, as Andressa fired into the roof of the net in the 93rd minute. Mary Earps hadn’t quite managed to smother the initial shot, but the substitute was there to send the rebound crashing over the line and take the game to a penalty shootout instead.
Georgia Stanway was first to step up to the penalty spot, and the defensive midfielder’s effort was tipped in by Leticia. Perhaps not the most convincing effort – but it counts all the same. Adriana was first for Brazil, and her strike was also sent into the back of the net via the ‘keeper. One apiece.
Ella Toone was next for England – but her low strike was saved with ease by Leticia. Tamires had the opportunity to put Brazil ahead for the first time this evening, but a fine save from Mary Earps kept the scores level at 1-1.
Up next for England was Rachel Daly, and her powerful strike was practically unsaveable – crashing into the back of the net to restore England’s advantage. Rafaelle was next to take for Brazil, and the Arsenal defender saw her effort ricochet off the crossbar. England 2-1.
Alex Greenwood had the chance to maintain England’s advantage, and she did just that from twelve yards out – giving Leticia no chance. 3-1 for the time being. Brazil simply had to score. Kerolin was tasked with the job, and sent Mary Earps the wrong way as she fired into the bottom corner. 3-2.
Chloe Kelly’s task was simple. Score to win. The Manchester City striker made no mistake whatsoever, firing her strike past the Brazilian ‘keeper to win England the game – and more importantly the first ever Women’s Finalissima trophy.
Attention now turns to the Alzheimer’s Society International fixture on Tuesday, as England prepare to face Australia under the lights at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium. We’ll be bringing you the action in that game too. But for now, let’s just dream a little while longer. They’ve won the EUROs, they’ve won the Finalissima – could they just do it and lift the World Cup in Sydney?